“I’ve recently been a victim of domestic violence, and I spent weeks trying to figure out what I needed to do to help myself and where I could go to do just that.”

domestic violence
Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe Flood

“Dear PoPville,

I’ve recently been a victim of domestic violence, and I spent weeks trying to figure out what I needed to do to help myself and where I could go to do just that. Trying to navigate uncharted legal territory when you’re confused and scared for your own safety is NOT fun. There are plenty of great resources and options for domestic violence victims in DC, but it took a lot of work and dedication to figure out what they are. I decided to compile a list of the resources and information that I found throughout my process in hopes that it might help someone else in the future. There are probably more resources out there, but these are the ones I know of:

Some awesome resources

DC Safe: If you need to get a restraining order (see below on this) the Domestic Violence Unit at the DC Courthouse SHOULD refer you to a group called DC Safe. If they don’t, contact them yourself (walk-in office hours 8:30am-4pm M-F; DC Superior Courthouse: 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Suite 4550 and United Medical Center: 1320 Southern Ave SE, Room 311). They will provide you with information about other resources, assign you an advocate to help you with your case, and answer any questions you might have. They can’t provide legal advice, but they will try to put you in touch with a pro-bono lawyer if you want them to.

DCVLP: The D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project . This is an AMAZING resource for many reasons. They represent domestic violence victims pro-bono. They offer a free legal clinic for domestic violence victims every week. They are super serious and dedicated to helping victims.

The Women’s Center: The Women’s Center has locations in Vienna, VA and downtown DC. They provide counseling to abuse and assault victims, educational programs, group therapy sessions, and much more.

DASH: District Alliance for Safe Housing provides safe housing for domestic violence victims in DC.

MSP: My Sister’s Place also provides safe housing for domestic violence victims

Crime Victims Compensation Fund: If you have incurred expenses because you’ve been a victim of a crime (hospital bills, changing your locks, relocating, theft, etc.), you can apply to this fund for reimbursement or direct payment of your expenses. They’ll cover up to a certain amount depending on the expense type, but they will pay for a LOT of various things.

Doorways (In Arlington, VA):
Doorways helps with homelessness, domestic violence, and sexual assault. They have a 24 hour hotline, should you have any questions or concerns. They have 2 safe houses, offer court advocacy assistance, financial planning assistance, and more.

LawHelp.org info: Website with a lot of good, general information on domestic violence, getting help, and preparing for court.

Civil Protection Orders (Restraining Orders)

If you need to get a restraining order against someone (a temporary protection order, or TPO), go to the DC Superior Courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave NW. Go the Domestic Violence unit on the 4th floor to fill out the paperwork.

You will go in front of a judge who will review your paperwork, and unless you are totally full of BS, will most likely grant you a TPO and a court date for a year-long civil protection order (CPO). TPOs last 2 weeks.

It is YOUR responsibility to ensure that your abuser is served with the court papers that notify him/her of both the TPO and his/her obligation to show up for the court date. This can be much easier said than done. See the next section for more on serving the papers.
Whether you have a TPO (good for 2 weeks) or a CPO (good for 1 year), if your abuser violates it, call 911 immediately. Take a picture of the abuser for proof ONLY if you can do so safely.

Keep a copy of your TPO or CPO with you at all times. If you do have to call 911 because your abuser violates it, you’ll need to show a copy to the police.

Serving Court Papers

Your abuser must be served with the court papers (both the protection order and the notice of court hearing) as official notice and summons to show up for your court date. It must be done in person. You cannot do it yourself, but anyone else over the age of 18 can.

You can hire a process server to serve the papers to your abuser if you so choose.

I DO know that the Virginia Sheriff will serve TPO papers for free if the abuser has an address in Virginia. But they may not make much of an effort – keep on them about it.

If you are unable to get your abuser served by your court date, the judge will ask you if you would like your TPO extended for 2 more weeks and assign you a new court date.

If you are STILL unable to find your abuser, you can file a Motion for Alternative Service. You can do this yourself or have a lawyer do it for you. If you do it yourself, you’ll need some help – see above for some legal resources. Basically, you’re asking the court to allow you to serve the person by alternate means (such as email or certified mail) and you have to show that you’ve made every effort to find your abuser and serve them in the traditional way.”

24 Comment

  • You can also try Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) They offer comprehensive legal and case management services for all survivors of crime. They can help with a survivors options and working through both the criminal legal or civil protection order process as well as title hearing on local campuses. As well as guidance with crime victims compensation and referrals for individual and group counseling.

    • Yes!!! Exactly what I can here to say. I was raped last December, reported to the police in January and toughed out the investigative process for most of this year. So glad I called them. They gave me extensive free legal help, a victim advocate at my side starting at the hospital exam and through the whole process, counseling, medicine, transportation to and from the hospital for that first exam, and just untold institutional experience of people who “get it.” They are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met and I am not sure I would be as well as I am today without them.

      • I’m so sorry you were in that situation (I am honestly tearing up for you), but I’m glad you got good support. That is really reassuring.

    • I cannot speak highly enough about NVRDC. A close friend was raped and they went truly above and beyond to help her physically and emotionally recover. She really struggled afterwards and I’m honestly not sure she would be alive today without their support.

    • Second the recommendation to seek resources from the Network for Victim Recovery of DC. Even if the only step you feel you can take is calling a number, they will take it from there and help you through every step that you feel you need to take. Totally survivor-oriented, with both advocate services and legal services.

  • Alexandria has a Office on Women that does support for rehousing for domestic violence as well.


  • Blithe

    The House of Ruth is another good resource.

  • I am so sorry this happened to you. I commend not only your ability to navigate the complex system of resources but your compassion for others who might need them as well, and I hope this helps you as you heal. If you or any other survivor of domestic violence needs health insurance separate from your abuser, you can apply to enroll in a Health Insurance Marketplace plan even outside of the open enrollment period. This could be especially important for women who are married to their abuser and need to get medical care without him knowing. Your dependents may also be eligible for coverage. Go to this page and scroll down to “Victims of domestic abuse/violence or spousal abandonment” or call 800-318-2596.


  • Aglets

    I’m a huge advocate and (unfortunately modest) donor to Doorways. They are a really fantastic organization.

  • There is also Becky’s Fund, a DC non-profit http://www.beckysfund.org/

  • Good for you for taking the time during what must be a difficult period to help other people. Thank you.

  • I’m sorry you went through this, and thank you for compiling and sharing this information. I would also add that American University’s law school (and probably other law schools in the area) has a domestic violence law clinic that can help getting TPOs and CPOs.

    • Georgetown Law also has a DV clinic and they are really fantastic. Local law schools can be a great resource – a lot of the time, even if they don’t have a program specific to your needs, they can tell you where to go.

  • Reminder for feds that it’s CFC season. Great opportunity to show some love for deserving organizations if you’re so inclined.

  • Wow. I hope you are okay now. It’s very nice of you to share all this information! Pity it’s not more easily accessible.

  • I’m so sorry that this happened to you. It’s wonderful of you to provide such a comprehensive set of resources to people who are in the same boat.

  • Cheers to the OP for taking a terrible situation and making it an opportunity to educate and help others. I’m so sorry for your situation and I am in awe of your response. Your strength is inspiring.

  • I’m sorry this happened, and thank you for sharing what you learned.

  • Call 202-529-5991 – My Sister’s Place. Free counselors can help you sort through all of the great information posted so you can get exactly what you need. Call them 24 hours a day.

  • Just a heads up most of these places will only actually ‘help’ you if you meet their income requirements. They do NOT care how many bills you have, how broke you are, homeless, if you’re still getting a paycheck then don’t waste your time. (And you will, doing intakes, telling your story, taking off work to get help and then finding out you don’t qualify.) If I had it to do all over I wouldn’t have gotten a protective order, I would have skipped town and built a new life elsewhere and invested my money in a secure building and private investigator if still being stalked. My situation and life actually got worse when I got the protective order. Lots of following me around in his car, parking just above the allowed feet by where I was living, sending others to intimidate and destroy property. Police couldn’t do a thing. And yeah it still continues. The only place I got actual concrete, doable advice was from the Domestic Violence Hotline. I was referred everywhere and actually helped… hardly anywhere because I was just over the income requirement. I even thought of quitting my jobs to get help but then that would look bad in custody… Yeah, wishing you the best and giving my 2 cents.

    • If I remember correctly, Gavin de Becker in “The Gift of Fear” recommends _against_ obtaining restraining orders… but I can’t remember what the rationale was.

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